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Lecture 20

ENGL 200 Lecture 20 - Cavalier & Metaphysical Poets.docx

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McGill University
English (Arts)
ENGL 200
Wes Folkerth

Cavalier and Metaphysical Poetry Cavalier Poets Ben Jonson Donnes poetry represent private voices, and he was an amateur Ben Jonson is the opposite, his poetry reflects public-ness and public voices He is self consciously a professional poet This is a contrast to make between the two writers One of the things that Jonson does is in the year 1616, the year of Shakespeare death, he publishes his collection of works: The Works, which is not something that poets usually did o He throws his plays o His occasional verse o Even some masque This was a whole farrago of poetic endeavors This is his bid to be taken seriously It was very unusual during this time for poets to do this Ben Jonson was born in 1572-73 (not sure) His father died a month before he was born, and was raised by his step-father, a brick layer He went to a good grammar school and worked in his fathers trade He went to fight in the low countries, and brag when he was there that he killed a man in single combat Therefore, he is a very masculine figure, in a Hemmingway sort of way He starts acting when he returns to England He starts top write plays in the 1590s Many of his works get him into trouble with the authorities, getting called in because he was making fun of the monarch, and unfairly satirizing somebody who was important He also got into a fight with Gabriel Spencer, and kills the man, a fellow actor Therefore, he is also a very violent man He is saved from hanging because he had the ability to read Latin, he was given the benefit of the clergy, an old law that applies to him Therefore, his learning saves his life (especially his classical education) Also around this period, he shifts and commits himself to Roman Catholicism (at same time Donne changes into Protestantism) Therefore people get suspicious of him He did get branded on his thumb because his murder, but this was nothing He was noteworthy as a writer for the stage, with his comedies of humors, typically about London City type people, and he was known as a very comic writer for the stage By the time that James comes to the throne, he gets a lot of work writer for the monarch, especially masques, a type of aristocratic entertainment o Here, you usually write a play for the noble family to act in, and people in the family would have small short lines in the play o It would be a very important incorporative theater form, because the people on the stage are the people you are supposed to be watching anyway o It is also a private theatre, since they are held in households, and it was a very family sort of theatre, which many friends and family get involved with, including events such as weddings o It is a form that could make money for a writer, because you are writing for people with means, and they look for your services and text, and they would even have requests like Can you write like Jove because my husband likes Jove o Therefore it was based on some requests as well These works are also typified by the presence of occasional verse o Does not mean sporadic, but for specific occasions o This could mean a dedication to someones book o Celebrating a noble family Therefore, he is dabbling into many different areas, not the first professional, but the first respected one, who the aristocrats would turn to write their masques Therefore, his humanist education he gets at the Westminster school, where he learned under William Camden, and what he learned is that the attitude of respecting and wishing to imitate classical values during his life and his time o He was trying to transport the greatness of that time to transfer to his time o He was trying to make society a better place o Therefore, he was one of the most honored poets of his time Note the plural of work: works. The testament to him is a collection, and the King actually awards him an annual pension, and he becomes, informally, the first poet laureate of England, making an annual living from what he has done in the realm of poetry His is not eccentrically private as a writer like Donne, even when he is writing something like On My First Son, which is writes about the death of his first son Note that Shakespeare also lost a first son, and it was common for parents to lose children in this era, and many children lost their mothers. Death was something that could happen at any moment. Page 1430 On My First Son Farewell, thou child of my right hand, and joy; (he named his son after himself, Ben) My sin was too much hope of thee, lov'd boy. Seven years thou wert lent to me, and I thee pay, Exacted by thy fate, on the just day. (Died when he was exactly seven) Oh, could I lose all father now! For why Will man lament the state he should envy? To have so soon 'scaped world's and flesh's rage, And if no other misery, yet age! Rest in soft peace, and, asked, say, Here doth lie Ben Jonson his best piece of poetry. For whose sake henceforth all his vows be such As what he loves may never like too much. Its a very emotional poem, and it is got a sort of public decorum to it This is a poem that will speak to other people who had gone through the same thing this is not just me and my grief There is a kind of control into the writing here, that other people can also have a way into the poem like this This is characteristic of public poetry that he and the poets following him (the Tribe of Ben, or Cavalier poets), that write a sort of poetry that is portable, and that it is the voice of the Jonson, but that you could apply to other personal situations as well Jonson frequently wrote in classical forms: o Epigrams o Epitaphs o Odes He does all of this knowingly because he knew the history behind these forms, and he adapted them to his current age very skillfully, but with a global awareness of what motivates such a poem and how using such as form will help him say what he wants to say, he is very careful of his form When he returned to England, he wanted to be like how Virgil and Horus were in Augustus Rome, that is, a poet who would serve the ruler and who would be in the long stretch of time, coequal, in cultural prominence with the ruler This ambition that he has, for what it means, for the cultural situation of the poet is that he is caught between two competing systems of value often in his poetry: o The ascribed status and personal patronage of the feudal order the people he is writing for. These people, by virtue of their birth acquire status and power (feudal order) o The new meritocracy of earning ones status, and becoming a market economy, where ones value is a function of what someone does, and we will see how this plays out in the Ode to Morrison Therefore he frequently has to convert one form of values into another In his commendatory kind of poetry, he has to try to make people who benefit from their birth look as though that they had earned that status (To Penshurst) Therefore, you have to be careful, because what you could be doing could be seen as flattery, and this could be detracted as poetry This is sort of what happens to Jonson: what he considered as most valuable as a writer nowadays are the theater pieces, the things he wrote for the public, not where he earns most of his money His contribution to English literature is seen primarily in his comedies Page 1434 To Penshurst Thou art not, PENSHURST , built to envious show Of touch, or marble ; nor canst boast a row Of polish'd pillars, or a roof of gold : Thou hast no lantern whereof tales are told ; Or stair, or courts ; but stand'st an ancient pile, And these grudg'd at, art reverenced the while. Thou joy'st in better marks, of soil, of air, 10 Of wood, of water ; therein thou art fair. Thou hast thy walks for health, as well as sport : Thy mount, to which thy Dryads do resort, Where Pan and Bacchus their high feasts have made, Beneath the broad beech, and the chestnut shade ; That taller tree, which of a nut was set, At his great birth, where all the Muses met. There, in the writhed bark, are cut the names Of many a sylvan, taken with his flames ; And thence the ruddy satyrs oft provoke The lighter fauns, to reach thy lady's oak. Thy copse too, named of Gamage, thou hast there, That never fails to serve thee season'd deer, 20 When thou wouldst feast or exercise thy friends. The lower land, that to the river bends, Thy sheep, thy bullocks, kine, and calves do feed ; The middle grounds thy mares and horses breed. Each bank doth yield thee conies ; and the tops Fertile of wood, Ashore and Sydneys copp's, To crown thy open table, doth provide The purpled pheasant, with the speckled side : 2 The painted partridge lies in ev'ry field, And for thy mess is willing to be kill'd. 30 And if the high-swoln Medway fail thy dish, Thou hast thy ponds, that pay thee tribute fish, Fat aged carps that run into thy net, And pikes, now weary their own kind to eat, As loth the second draught or cast to stay, Officiously at first themselves betray. Bright eels that emulate them,
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